The quilters from Bristol Lutheran Church in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, were looking at a publication from Lutheran World Relief when they noticed pictures of quilts being distributed in Nepal. Several quilts looked very familiar as the group recognized their distinct sewing pattern. The quilts of the small church may well have worked their way to a country some 11,000 miles away, traveling across the eastern United States to the port of Baltimore, across the Atlantic Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope, crossing the Indian Ocean into the Bay of Bengal, before arriving finally in Nepal.
“As soon as the women saw the pictures from Nepal, they said, ‘Oh yeah, we did that one,'” said Ann Schwanke, a volunteer with the group. “We primarily use large pieces of material. We don’t cut up the material and make squares. The tops are always made of new materials while the bottoms are sheets. They are recognizable.” It was a confirmation of what the women in the group have long known but were happy to see: their work is helping people around the world.
“They were overjoyed to see that their work had contributed to the betterment of people a world away. You could see people were happy,” said Ann, who has quilted with the group for 20 years. “We saw a picture of one woman carrying several quilts on her head as she walked away from the distribution area.”
This small church has been making quilts for worldwide distribution since the 1940’s, when Lutheran World Relief first began asking for them as one of the organization’s earliest projects after its formation in the aftermath of World War II.
Ann noted that the church has seven or eight quilters regularly working with the group. They work eight months of the year, meeting at the church on Tuesday mornings to put the quilts together. Tops and bottoms are made at home by the volunteers, as well as final sewing of the quilts. The group produces at least 400 quilts every year; in 2017, they made 430. “I would say that is pretty awesome for the size of our congregation,” says Ann.
Each October, the quilts head to Minneapolis on a boxcar. While there are only a small number of quilters, the group draws in everyone for materials. According to Ann, “We’re always begging people for material and different supplies so we can make as many as we possibly can. With that many quilts you have to have a great deal of basic material.”
She ends with, “The world in great need. We will do as much as can.”
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